Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Bone Garden

To stay true to my blog, I'll give a little run-down of Tess Gerritsen's The Bone Garden.  But to be fair at the same time, I should tell you that this is not my genre at all, and while I thought I'd get a kick out of reading an adult thriller like I'm 9 years old again reading R.L. Stine, that didn't really happen.  I should've known this reading Sherlock Holmes, which was superior of course, and yet still didn't do it for me.  So considering you're not getting a fair review of this genre, the author or this particular title, I thought I'd keep it short.

The Bone Garden: A Novel

The book is about Julia who, post-divorce, moves into a fixer-upper home on the outskirts of Boston to start over.  She starts digging for a garden in her backyard and finds the bones of a person, who turns out to be the murdered corpse of an early 19th-century woman.  Julia becomes sort of inexplicably fascinated with this woman's story, as it is tied to that of her new home, and begins to research the past with an interested accomplice claiming to be a relation of the dead woman.  Something like that.  So the story switches back and forth between 1830 and The Present, as Julia discovers more information on the murder and the related West End Reaper murders, while back in 1830 a group of medical students - one of which Oliver Wendell Holmes, whose "major role" in this whole thing I'm still not sure I get, except that he wrote a bunch of letters - try to find out the identity of the Reaper themselves.  There is some romance, lots of murder, pretty gruesome autopsy scenes and depictions of the effects of diseases on hospital patients.  We're treated to some background on medical practice in the 19th-century, for example, doctors didn't know to wash their hands to keep from spreading disease and unwittingly caused the deaths of a whole lot of patients.

I didn't get, as I said, the role of OWH in this story.  I also didn't get the ending at all (somebody turns out to be someone's something, and therefore the other person is really someone else's something).  But you know what, I didn't really care enough to re-read or backtrack in my memory for possible answers.  Considering the type of book, I would expect everything to wrap up nicely - and it did, a little too nicely and I would say predictably except for the fact that I really don't know the new-found identity of Julia.  I get the other guy, which I knew anyway beforehand.  But yeah, I don't really care.  Sorry.

And that's that.  I don't expect to read another thriller or detective story any time soon.  So we'll be back in about a week - or longer 'cuz it's one of those hard, scholarly books I don't read very often - with Ronald Hutton's The Triumph of the Moon, about witchcraft in modern England/America.  Cool, right?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Three Cups of Tea

"Do you see how beautiful this Koran is?" Haji Ali asked.
"I can't read it," he said.  "I can't read anything.  This is the greatest sadness in my life.  I'll do anything so the children of my village never have to know this feeling.  I'll pay any price so they have the education they deserve."
"Sitting there beside him," Mortenson says, "I realized that everything, all the difficulties I'd gone through, from the time I'd promised to build the school, through the long struggle to complete it, was nothing compared to the sacrifices he was prepared to make for his people.  Here was this illiterate man, who'd hardly ever left his little village in the Karakoram," Mortenson says.  "Yet he was the wisest man I've ever met."

Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time

If you haven't yet heard of this book, and I actually hadn't before reading it, this is the story of American climber-turned-humanitarian Greg Mortenson and how he managed to provide schooling for thousands of Pakistani and Afghan children, before, during and after 9/11.  Mortenson argues that education is the best assurance of the world's safety when it comes to a difference between literacy - and subsequent empowerment of young women - and the Muslim extremism children are pushed into without it.  Why women? - partly because boys are already given more educational attention in these villages, but mostly because once the girls are educated they will likely stay in their home villages, pulling their own people out of the poverty they've known their whole lives.  It's just like boys to take their education and run with it, isn't it?

This is not my usual fare, granted, it was a gift for Christmas I think.  I'm glad I read it, there were some really moving parts where Greg, or co-author, David Oliver Relin really nails down the beauty of the culture of these people in a forgotten, poverty-stricken area of the world, and the potential of his movement to "promote peace" (as the title suggests) where there seldom is any.  I could have lived without the first half of the book and it's ultra-slow beginning, and the authors describe the climbing life (of which I have no interest) of Mortenson and other climbers.  Just before the picture-section, which is great, the story picks up as Greg begins to realize the direction his life (and this book) is meant to go in.  The main idea, as mentioned in my first paragraph, is convincing and I'm ashamed I haven't thought before of the potential of middle eastern women's education.  Of course, I knew (and know still) very little about the middle east - and yet this book made an interesting and powerful read, as it chronicles Greg's experiences as well as those of many beneficiaries of his work.  I would've loved to read on about how the girls continue to pursue their dreams, and wish there could've been less climbing-talk to accommodate this.  I also really enjoyed how Mortenson integrates into the various situations he encounters, without resorting to the stereotypical American forcefulness and attempts at cultural genocide that may be expected of us evil Americans.  This was a breath of fresh air, especially in contrast to the US government's way of handling things.

All in all, recommended for anyone who values worldwide literacy, middle eastern-American politics, an end to poverty, the power of education and/or women's studies.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Pleasure Unbound: A Demonica Novel

"I'm not exactly evil."
She snorted.  "All demons are pure evil."
"What about half breeds, are they evil, too?"
"They're abominations that deserve to die the same as any other demon."
He turned and looked at her, wearing a grin that was about as evil as any she'd seen.  "This is going to be fun."

Pleasure Unbound (Demonica, Book 1)

Welcome to a world of humans... and an underworld of demons!  There is Tayla, a young woman who works for the Aegis, an organization of demon-slayers bent on destroying every last shred of demonness to protect humankind.  Tayla calls these people home in a way she has never called anything or anyone.  Until she meets Eidolon, a doctor at the hospital where she is sent after a near-fatal mix with a demon that ended up killing her colleague as she watched helplessly, unable to move.  Eidolon heals her wounds, both physical and emotional and offers Tayla pleasures that she has never been able to experience before with other men.  But perhaps men would be the wrong word, because unfortunately Eidolon is an incubus demon.  And not just any incubus demon, but the kind that will mature into his full destructive demon-form unless he can find the perfect mate before it's too late...

Can these two stay together despite the odds?  Will they ever learn to trust each other, or are their differences too great?  And what is it that affects Tayla, causing her body to become numb just when she needs her strength the most?  I'll give you a hint:  it's got plenty to do with her past, notably her parents, only one of which ever knew.  Can Tayla figure out her sudden illness, her relationship with Eidolon and her place in the world before events cause it to come crashing down around her?

Quite a few threads to follow in this, the first paranormal romance novel in Larissa Ione's Demonica trilogy with the mad sexy names (Desire Unchained [2], Passion Unleashed [3]).  The plot moves forward at breathtaking speed, following each of the characters through their respective issues and catastrophes, all coming together at the end to reveal surprising truths about each of them... well, almost all of them.  Otherwise, we wouldn't be so tempted to pick up Book 2, right?  The characters themselves are interesting and funny though a little predictable and too perfect.  There are cheesy moments  here, but not enough to distract from the quick, smart plot threads.  And of course, the steamy scenes are very steamy as they should be, so romance fans will be at home.

Last but not least, I have to thank Ms. Ione for the various Buffy/Angel references!  In the Appendices is a letter from Ione herself citing her influences and obsessions including ER, Grey's Anatomy, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer - which she should be darn proud of, if you ask me!  But you didn't so I'll just recommend the book normally like a nice little reviewer should, and tell you that if you like paranormal, romance or both, you'll read this one in a matter of hours... preferably at bedtime.  :wink:

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dead Until Dark

I'd been waiting for the vampire for years before he walked into the bar...

Dead Until Dark (Original MM Art) (Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood)And here it is, my official entry into the world of Sookie Stackhouse and the southern vampire mysteries!  I'm so glad this book lived up to my expectations - and beyond.  Not too much time was spent on the vampire mythology - who cares anymore, right? We get the vampire thing - and more was given to the stories of  these loveable characters, beginning with Sookie, a waitress at the local bar.  Sookie unwittingly becomes a major part of the vampire scene in northern Louisiana when she befriends Bill, a sexy, mysterious vampire looking to "mainstream" in the human world.  From then on, it's one upheaval after another in Sookie's life, which keeps her and us guessing until the very end.

I loved Sookie's character.  I found her realistic and charming, hilarious and well, a lot like a real woman.  Luckily she wasn't made out to be a superhuman, although she has a pretty nifty "gift" of telepathy which plays a huge role in the book's events - because I'm usually not too crazy about the fantasy heroine who can't hold her own without her magical cat or whatever.  Sookie can hold her own even when she has plenty cause to be afraid.  Her relationship with Bill might grow on me in future books, but his character seems too similar to other vampires - if any different, then slightly duller.  In fact, I am hard pressed to find a vampire character in any book who is superior to his human rival, and in this case sadly, I stand by that prejudice.  Bill's character is "the vampire", who just when we get used to having him around, takes a backseat to Sookie's boss Sam, a caring, also mysterious individual with no past and a possible future - with Sookie!  Or ...?

That's all you get now, because you have to read this book.  If you don't usually like the dark, brooding vampire novel, well forget that because you will laugh your ass off with this one.  In my mind it must be terrifically difficult to write a novel that's really funny, but Charlaine Harris has done a great job here.  You'll find yourself several times in Sookie's position (if you're a woman), and if you're not then you learn a great deal about real women, no superpower cats to speak of.  Now when I'll get a hold of the next Sookie Stackhouse I have yet to see.  So we'll continue next week with a review of Larissa Ione's Pleasure Unbound, the first of the Demonica novels.  The tagline (or whatever they're called) is "Surrender to the ultimate temptation."  My kind of demon erotica.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Queen of the Damned

If you haven't read the Anne Rice vampire chronicles, well it's not for everyone.  But it is for me!  I've finished the first three books in the series, as mentioned in my last post, and each one with the feeling that I've gone through everything the characters have gone through.  I finish the last page with a breath of relief and at the same time a longing for the story that was just told.  I'm even tempted to check archaeological records and see if people really did start farming just to have their own little psychedelic-drug collections for an easy trip!

The Queen of the Damned (Vampire Chronicles) 

And longing is no stranger to Anne Rice's characters... this, the third book in the series, continues in Lestat's voice where he left off in The Vampire Lestat:  the Queen has awoken for better or for worse and we find out what she has in store not only for Lestat and his bloodsucking friends, but for the world.  The story begins in the present and ends in the past, taking us through a web of families, vampire and human, various versions of a fascinating mythology and creation story of the vampire, new old vampires as introduced to the readers along with their own tortuous pasts - all held together by the Beginning, here known as the Legend of the Twins.  What is the Legend of the Twins?  Well, you have to read to find out, I can't tell you.

This was clearly the most painstaking of the vampire chronicles so far, as Anne Rice pulls together the stories of so many to form a cohesive truth of the Beginning, and finally brings us to a deeply felt climax as the events from the second novel explode, leaving Lestat and the others to clean up what mess they unknowingly started in the first two novels.  The end sees everyone together, the ultimate showdown to stop evil in its tracks and all must decide what the world has become to them all - a feed farm for vampires, a human nightmare that must be put to rest, or a beacon of hope for humans and vampires past and yet to come.

While I'm not sure Queen of the Damned is my favorite in the chronicles so far, I did enjoy the various threads woven together and the takes on the mythology/truth of the vampire and the prehistory included to tell this tale.  The vampires are very humanized in this book, and it's definitely no secret here that Anne Rice intended the vampire struggle to act as metaphor for Christianity and the human struggle with faith in good and evil, and in the world we live in.  The suspense of the ever-unfolding Story of the Twins pushes the book along and it's about half-way through that you refuse to put the book down until you know what's up with these twins and what the heck that has to do with the Queen.  Highly recommended, even more highly if you've read The Vampire Lestat, which is also a must-read for vampire lovers.

And with that I leave you guessing and reading, so I can continue Charlaine Harris' Dead Until Dark, the first in the Sookie Stackhouse series.  No, I haven't seen True Blood yet and while the TV show can't be as good as the books, I do plan to catch it later this year - after reading the series of course.  So don't go anywhere, the next review will reach you in no time!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Vampire Evening

Just reviewing the blog, I thought of how un-called for it was to put up a science-y book for review.  I know you don't care too much for pop science blogs, 'cause you arrived here at a supposed fantasy-themed review blog.  I feel for you, so don't worry, I'm back on the wagon.  Carl Sagan's book was one of those books you've had for a century and just can't get rid of it because you know you should really read it, and you bought it brand-new, inexplicably, so it would be a pity to sell it for less than it's worth...

You know.  So I just wanted to raise the fantasy standard here and let you know that YES this is a fantasy-romance-horror type book blog, and to make my point extra point-ful I even changed the background to give me that warm, fuzzy harlequin, naughty-naughty feeling.  Hope you appreciate the effort!

Interview with the VampireThe Vampire Lestat (Rice, Anne, Chronicles of the Vampires, 2nd Bk.)The Queen of the Damned (Vampire Chronicles)

Next on the review list is Anne Rice's Queen of the Damned, as you might be able tell from my little Currently Reading icon on the right side there, it's a little tiny.  Anyway, I chose the older book cover because the new one has the ridiculous and yet hilarious movie still with Aaliyah and whatever dude was supposed to be the Vampire Lestat.  Thought I'd spare us the wannabe vampire photo until we can decide for ourselves exactly how ridiculous Lestat looks from the novels themselves.  I've read Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat in the past, among other Anne Rice novels, and found them all to be worthy of a glass of wine during a rainy evening - where you curl up with one of those really good "transport-me" type of books that has to be better than where you are now?  That's Anne Rice, descriptive, beautiful imagery, plenty of black velvet and evil to get you through that stormy night.  So don't go away, I'll have this one done in no time.

Edited to add:  My first won-book came in the mail just now!  Took less than a week from Book Depository, I am so thrilled.  It's Charlaine Harris' Dead Until Dark, of the Sookie Stackhouse series.  Now, it's about to rain cats and dogs in my area for the next week, so be prepared for some serious vampire love!  May your corners of the world also be graced with such nasty weather!!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Demon-Haunted World

I'm still around, I haven't forgotten book blogging!  It's hard to keep up with those book-bloggers who post at least daily, and great posts, not just some quick drivel to keep their site "updated."  But I do what I can with my little blog, and I'm really having fun here, so don't hate.

It's taken me a little over a week to read Carl Sagan's A Demon-Haunted World.


The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the DarkCarl Sagan was an astronomer whose life's work included awakening a sense of wonder for science among science-buffs and non-buffs with books (and films) such as Cosmos and Pale Blue Dot, the first of which I know to be a "history of everything" type of book that covers topics in philosophy, religion, etc. as well as hard science.  So knowing this much, I was anxious to get started learning a bit about this thing that is science and why there is so much opposition to it - as much now as ever.

The book begins with Sagan's personal experiences with science, and how he first came to respect it for the infallible system of truth-finding that it is (my words).  Sagan denounces religious fanaticism and superstition, old and new (and growing, unfortunately) because of its fallibility and supposed doctrines which even when proven to be false are adhered to just as ferociously by their fanatics.  I couldn't agree more with Sagan's ideas in this book, and I think he presented them in a non-hating way - not only of religion (the non-fanatical kind) but of the human beings who practice religion and stick to traditions that are not based on scientific research and discovery.  Occasionally, he does call out the superstitious for their supposedly impractical and useless beliefs, and while I appreciate his intentions to expose frauds, I don't completely agree that anyone who sincerely believes the world was created 6,000 years ago to be a fraud by definition, or more broadly that a world without (granted, diverse factions of) religion would be a terrific place.  I think the same people who abuse religion toward their own amoral ends would also (and do) abuse science for just as sinister purposes.  This idea is of course downplayed as Sagan explains that many more people have been saved by "science" than have been victimized by it - and this is probably true (there are not many footnotes, but I can use my faculty of common sense), yet we can't assume that there is a hidden beneficial purpose of the hydrogen bomb.

Another theme in Sagan's book besides the de-bunking is the current path that various countries in the world are taking regarding science.  The United States is the focus of this book because Sagan is an American, and he takes issue with the dumbing down of the school system, the spread of fundamentalism among mostly Christians (the Creationists) in America, and most importantly the cause of these other problems, the fall of skepticism.  Sagan devotes various chapters to actual letters he's received from everyday Americans responding to an article with the same ideas presented in this book, firstly 10th graders and then parents of school-age children.  The letters from the high-school students are shameful, filled with misspellings and other grammatical errors that you have to wonder if Sagan chose the absolute worst-written letters to publish here, and where he could've found so many 10th-graders who could barely read or write at a 4th-grade level.  Interestingly, all of the parents' letters are grammatically sound, which begs the question of where those letters came from that all "grown-ups" in that town could be so darn smart in comparison to the next generation (aka their own children).  A little bias for the sake of making a point, it seems.

And the last theme I'll talk about here before giving my verdict is the future of science, as seen by Carl Sagan.  He asks:  "How could we put more science on television?" knowing that television, as in the 1990's at the time of this publication, is pretty much every American's golden calf.  What he comes up with are, on the whole, some either naive or terribly outdated ideas for educational programming a la the following.  I ask if you could possibly imagine a TV show called Solved Mysteries with its "rational resolutions" on television; or a show about "coordinated government lie[s]".

Sagan largely asks why can't things be more like they were?  And my answer to that lies in the above paragraph.  Is it legal to question?  Sure it is.  Will your life be made much more difficult for it?  Will you lose your standard of living, your job or your friends?  Maybe.  It may take much more than a few scientific TV programs to change the way America operates nowadays, but I, like Sagan, have no idea how to go about digging that deep.  In any case, I did enjoy reading this book for various reasons:  I love the way Sagan writes so clearly and, well, reasonably, that you can't help but agree with him and wonder what the heck we're doing with ourselves if not being just as reasonable.  Why don't we study more?  Why is science a bad word to so many of us?  It also gets you thinking further:  As one of the country's biggest opposing mates to science, how prevalent is real religious fundamentalism?  Is it all or mostly politically motivated, or have people really just had enough of reality?  Why are they disenchanted with reality, what can we do about it (hint: today's TV ain't gonna fix this one).  I also loved Sagan's chapter The Fine Art of Baloney Detection, where he cites the various fallacies scientists contend with and how to recognize them in the everyday.  Very helpful in debates, if that's your thing.  And I really love pop science books (or any subject) that makes you want to go out and become a scientist (or whatever).  For anyone interested in science, or just the real workings of the world, you can't find a better beginning than this, a great manual for skeptics and thinking folk of all shapes, sizes and even religious persuasions.